South Portland 68 Thornton Academy 65 (OT)

TA- 11 18 19 8 9- 65
SP- 16 12 16 12 12- 68

TA- Griffin 8-5-22, P. Jones 7-0-15, Gaudette 3-0-7, Pyzynski 3-0-7, Lands 2-0-5, Gikas 1-0-3, A. Jones 1-0-3, Mitchell 1-0-3

SP- Baez 8-1-17, Pamba 5-5-15, Carr 1-7-10, Boles 4-0-9, Maloney 3-0-8, Bialorucki 1-2-4, Jackson 1-0-3, Owen 1-0-2

TA (8) Gaudette, Gikas, Griffin, A. Jones, P. Jones, Lands, Mitchell, Pyzynski 1
SP (5) Maloney 2, Boles, Carr, Jackson 1

TA- 23
SP- 19

TA: 5-9
SP: 15-18

SOUTH PORTLAND—In the gauntlet that is Class AA South boys’ basketball this winter, there is virtually no separation and no margin for error and that was once again on display Thursday evening at Beal Gymnasium when the region’s two remaining undefeated teams, host South Portland and always-tough Thornton Academy, squared off.

And to no one’s surprise, a down-to-the-wire nailbiter ensued.

One which needed more than 32 minuets to decide.

The Red Riots got off to a promising start, closing the first quarter on a 10-2 run to grab a 16-11 lead.

South Portland then went quiet for much of the second period and Thornton Academy battled back to go on top, 29-28, when sophomore Anthony Jones buried a 3 just before the half.

The Golden Trojans then opened up a 10-point lead in the third quarter when senior Will Mitchell hit a 3-pointer, but the final six points of the frame went to the hosts to make the score 48-44 heading for what everyone thought would be the final stanza.

Early in the fourth period, Thornton Academy was up by six, 52-46, but the Red Riots battled back and with 2:06 left in regulation, senior Geremi Baez’s layup put South Portland ahead.

Baez then fouled out and layups from juniors Dylan Griffin (who had a monster game) and Payton Jones put the Golden Trojans on the brink of victory.

But Thornton Academy missed a free throw that could have iced it and with 5 seconds to go, senior Cade Carr hit a clutch 3 for the Red Riots to force overtime.

There, the Golden Trojans went ahead by four, but senior Pamba Pamba came to life by scoring eight points, including a jumper in the lane with 1:01 remaining, to put South Portland ahead for good and the Red Riots did just enough down the stretch to hold on and prevail, 68-65.

Baez had 17 points, Pamba finished with 15 and Carr added 10, which was just enough to counter Griffin’s 22 points as South Portland improved to 7-0 and in the process, handed Thornton Academy its first setback in six outings.

“I like being 7-0,” said Red Riots’ coach Kevin Millington. “It was two pretty darned-good teams fighting through a really challenging game in so many ways. It wasn’t the best game for either team. Part of that was who we were playing.”

First loss

South Portland and Thornton Academy have lived up to preseason billing by passing every test in the 2019 portion of their schedule.

The Golden Trojans started with a 65-44 victory at Sanford, then defeated visiting Edward Little (66-49), visiting Noble (63-26), host Windham (43-35) and visiting Gorham (72-64).

The Red Riots, meanwhile, rolled at highly-touted Gorham (62-39) in the opener, then defeated visiting Class AA North favorite Deering (74-62) and Massabesic (77-52) before making a powerful statement by crushing host Greely, the three-time defending Class A champion, 81-43. After holding off visiting Bonny Eagle, 66-65, in a playoff rematch, South Portland handled host Scarborough, 54-39.

A year ago, the Golden Trojans prevailed, 56-52, in South Portland.

Thursday, something had to give in front of a near capacity crowd and it proved to be Thornton Academy, but only after 15 lead changes, six ties, 36 minutes of game action and 100 palpitating real time minutes.

The first points came 44 seconds in, as senior Kobe Gaudette took a pass from senior Jack Pyzynski and made a layup to give the Golden Trojans the early lead.

The Red Riots countered with a 3-point shot from senior Ryan Boles, but Payton Jones’ putback put the visitors back on top.

Carr countered with two foul shots and Pamba made one for his first point, but a putback from Griffin, who dominated on the glass from start to finish, tied the game, 6-6.

Junior Costa Gikas followed with a 3-ball for Thornton Aacdemy, but freshman Jaelen Jackson tied things up for South Portland with a 3 and sophomore Owen Maloney followed with a 3 to give South Portland a 12-9 lead.

After Pamba added two points with a putback, Payton Jones scored on a reverse layup, but with 15.7 seconds remaining, after a Maloney steal, Baez scored his first points on a layup for a 16-11 Red Riots’ advantage.

South Portland’s offense dried up for a time in the second period and back came the Golden Trojans.

A layup from senior Colby Lands opened the frame and after Griffin made two free throws, a long 3-pointer from Payton Jones put Thornton Academy back in the lead, 18-16.

With 3:44 to go before halftime, Carr made two free throws to tie the score and snap a 4-minute, 31-second drought, but Pyzynski countered with a 3-pointer.

The Red Riots answered, as Maloney scored on a leaner and senior Gerik Bialorucki sank two free throws, but Gaudette made a 3 to put the Golden Trojans back on top.

Pamba tied things up with two foul shots, Maloney set up senior Hunter Owen for a layup and with 39.5 seconds left in the half, after a Carr steal, Bialorucki made a layup, but Thornton Academy had the last laugh, getting a driving layup from Griffin, then a 3 just before the horn from Anthony Jones to take a 29-28 advantage to the break.

In the first 16 minutes, Payton Jones had seven points and Griffin posted six points and 10 rebounds for the Golden Trojans, while the Red Riots were paced by five points apiece from Maloney and Pamba.

The fun continued in the third quarter.

Just 12 seconds into the second half, after a steal, Gaudette made a layup.

Carr fed Baez for a layup at the other end, but Griffin made a layup and Lands sank a 3 from the corner to make it 36-30 Golden Trojans.

After Pamba scored on a putback, Pyzynski countered with a fastbreak layup.

Carr set up Baez for another layup, but Gaudette found Griffin for a layup to make it 40-34.

Baez then drove for a layup and off an inbounds set, Jackson found Boles for a layup to pull South Portland within a basket, but the next eight points went to the visitors.

After Payton Jones drove for a layup, Griffin sank a 3 from the corner, then in transition, Jones found Mitchell for another 3 and a 48-38 lead.

The Red Riots refused to fold, however, and finished the quarter strong.

After Boles drove for a layup, Baez scored on a putback.

Then, with just 2.1 seconds on the clock, Baez was fouled and on the play, a Thornton Academy player grabbed the ball and thinking the clock was about to expire, fired the ball up the court and in the process, was assessed a technical foul.

With Golden Trojans’ coach Bob Davies apoplectic on the sidelines, imploring the officials to change the call, it didn’t happen and after Baez made one of his two free throws, Carr went to the foul line to shoot the two technical free throws. He made only one, but the deficit was just four, 48-44, heading for the fourth period.

There, drama but no resolution awaited.

A driving layup from Payton Jones opened the final stanza.

Baez countered with a putback, but with 6:55 left, two Griffin free throws made it 52-46.

Thornton Academy wouldn’t score again for over five minutes and South Portland completed its comeback.

A clutch 3-pointer from Maloney got the rally started.

Baez then scored on a putback to cut the deficit to 52-51 with 5:54 to go.

The Red Riots then had five possessions to take the lead, but three times turned the ball over and on three other occasions missed shots.

Finally, with 2:06 on the clock, Boles fed Baez for a layup and a 53-52 lead.

After the teams traded turnovers, Baez was called for his fifth foul and had to sit the remainder of the game.

The Golden Trojans took advantage, as with 1:10 to go, Griffin drove for a layup and after Boles missed a shot, Payton Jones’ layup with 43.1 seconds left, gave Thornton Academy a three-point advantage.

Maloney missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer and Pyzynski went to the line for a one-and-one and a chance to essentiall ice it with 17.6 seconds to go, but he missed the front end and South Portland still had life.

Out of a timeout, the Red Riots got the ball to Boles, who drew the defense, then spotted Carr open behind the 3-point stripe. Carr didn’t hesitate and calmly buried the game-tying 3 with 5 seconds to go, making the score, 56-56.

“Hunter set a fantastic screen,” Carr said “I hadn’t hit a 3 all night. I got it and it felt good.”

“Cade gave us life with that shot,” Pamba said. “We needed it. That was a tough shot that he hit.”

“We wanted one 3 tonight and that was at the end of regulation,” Millington added.

The Golden Trojans had an opportunity to win in regulation, but Pyzynski’s long 3-pointer was off-target and it was on to overtime.

In Maine high school basketball, teams play a four-minute OT to determine a winner. The extra session began auspiciously for Thornton Academy, but  it would be South Portland which saved its best for last.

The Golden Trojans won the overtime tip and while Gikas missed a 3-pointer, Griffin kept possession alive with the offensive rebound and Pyzynski banked home a shot.

After a South Portland turned the ball over, Payton Jones’ layup made it 60-56 Thornton Academy, but again, the Red Riots didn’t buckle.

At the other end, after Carr missed a 3, Boles kept possession alive with an offensive rebound and put it home.

Payton Jones missed a 3 and at the other end, with 2 minutes to go, a pair of Pamba free throws tied the score.

With 1:37 left, Griffin made one of two free throws to put the Golden Trojans ahead, but 14 seconds later, Pamba spun and finished in the lane to give South Portland its first lead of OT, 62-61.

“My mindset at the end of the game was to keep going,” said Pamba. “Even though my shots weren’t falling, to keep attacking. They’re a tough team because their length and defensive pressure is ridiculous. On top of that, they have Griffin.”

“Pamba is a great player,” Carr said. “We knew he can turn it up.”

“Sometimes it looks like he gets that look in his eyes and he doesn’t, but then sometimes he does,” Millington added. “I can tell. In big moments, he can hit big shots.”

With 1:11 to go, Payton Jones missed a 3, but Griffin scored on a putback to give Thornton Academy its final lead.

Ten seconds later, Pamba made a jumper in the lane and the Red Riots were on top to stay, but the hosts still had a long way to go.

After Pyzynski missed a 3, the Golden Trojans kept possession, but Pyzynski tried another long 3, missed it and the rebound went out of bounds to South Portland.

With 20.6 seconds to play, Carr was fouled and made both free throws to push the lead to three.

Thornton Academy then turned the ball over and with 13.6 seconds showing, Boles found Pamba for a backbreaking layup.

Griffin scored two final points on a putback with just under a second to go, but South Portland ran out the clock and celebrated its 68-65 victory.

“It was exciting,” Carr said. “It was the seniors (who made the difference). It’s huge to have seven of us who play. When we get down, there are no worries. We know we can pull it out.”

“This is the first time all year we’ve been behind, so it was good for us to have to come back and fight,” said Millington. “We kept our composure. Having seniors really helps. Cade had a wonderful end of game and overtime.”

Millington was cautious following the win.

“Sometimes you lose to the team you beat in the regular season,” he said. “Twice since I’ve been at South Portland, we’ve lost to Thornton Academy in the regular season and beat them in the tournament. We beat Bonny Eagle last year and they beat us in the tournament. I’m not sure winning in the regular season goes well for teams.”

Baez scored 17 points and had eight rebounds and three steals before fouling out.

Pamba had 15 points (eight in OT) and also grabbed nine boards.

Carr made just one field goal (the biggest of the game), but had 10 points, five assists and four rebounds.

Boles added nine points (and had four assists), Maloney had eight points off the bench, Bialorucki finished with four, Jackson three (to go with three assists) and Owen two (as well as five rebounds).

South Portland overcame 19 turnovers and hit an all-important 15-of-18 free throws.

Thornton Academy got a Herculean effort from Griffin, who had 22 points and 20 rebounds.

“Griffin’s a good basketball player and he did a good job tonight,” Davies said.

Payton Jones added 15 points, four assists and four steals.

Gaudette had seven points and four steals, Pyzynski seven points, five assists and three steals, Lands five points and Gikas, Anthony Jones and Mitchell three points apiece.

The Golden Trojans had a 37-32 rebounding advantage, but turned the ball over 23 times and made just 5-of-9 free throws.

“It was two good teams tonight,” Davies said. “Both teams competed well. It was a good game to be a part of. They made a shot to tie it, then scored more points in overtime.”

Right back in action

Thornton Academy returns to action Saturday afternoon with a big test, at Gorham.

“Every night in this league is difficult,” Davies said. “It’s a grind.”

As for South Portland, the Red Riots welcome Sanford Saturday in game that has a new start time, 2 p.m. Trips to longtime nemesis Portland and revenge-minded Bonny Eagle loom next week.

“This is a great experience for later in the season,” Carr said. “Tourney time, no matter who we’re playing, you’re likely to be down at some point. To show you can do it against this good of a team is huge.”

“We have seven games in 15 days,” Millington said. “We have a talented Sanford team that’s getting better, then Portland and it doesn’t matter what their record is, it’s still Portland-South Portland, then we get Bonny Eagle. We don’t get to rest.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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